BOSTON -- Teams with Stanley Cup aspirations don't generally start their season by trading a top-four defenseman.
But Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli did that Saturday when he traded Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders for the Philadelphia Flyers' second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft (previously acquired by the Islanders), the Islanders' 2016 second-round pick and a conditional third-round pick in 2015 that Boston will receive if the Islanders trade Boychuk to another Eastern Conference team this season.
Chiarelli conceded that by making this trade four days before the regular-season opener against the Flyers, he didn't make the Bruins better.
"How does it impact our team? He's very well-liked and I'm sure the guys are bummed and they're probably a little bit bummed at me for doing it," Chiarelli said at TD Garden prior to the Bruins' preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings.
"You know it's about making the team better now, tomorrow, the next day, the next day. Arguably this doesn't make us better now, obviously. But it's something when I look at it in a series of steps, I think it was the right move."
Boychuk played five seasons with the Bruins and was a member of the Stanley Cup championship team in 2011. Chiarelli said that in the big picture, "this may one in a series of two or three steps throughout the course of the year."
It's getting difficult for teams to keep a roster that's won a championship intact within an NHL salary-cap structure as players improve and expect increases in pay.
"I'd love to keep this team together player-to-player as long as I could if I felt it was prudent on the hockey front and the financial front," Chiarelli said. "I've tried to keep the critical mass together and will continue to provide the right moves for the organization."
Chiarelli has made long-term commitments with extensions for defenseman Zdeno Chara, centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, and wings Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic. However, the Bruins had to let forward Jarome Iginla leave during the summer. Boychuk became another casualty of Boston's salary-cap situation.
In Chiarelli's view, the Bruins had to make this trade now because of the return he was able to get for Boychuk and to make sure the Bruins have flexibility to be cap-compliant for this season and beyond.
According to CapGeek.com, the Bruins are about $800,000 above the salary-cap ceiling. They will be compliant after they place injured center Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve and remove his cap charge of slightly more than $4 million. Chiarelli said there are several combinations of his opening-night roster that will require him to either put Savard on LTIR before or after the start of the season depending on which players make the team.
Looking beyond this season, Boychuk is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Chiarelli did not attempt to re-sign the 30-year-old. With Boychuk gone, the Bruins have centers Carl Soderberg and Gregory Campbell, and wing Daniel Paille scheduled to become UFAs. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and recently re-signed defenseman Torey Krug and forward Reilly Smith, who each signed a one-year contract, are scheduled to become restricted free agents. Several other prospects also are scheduled to become RFAs.
Chiarelli was convinced he wasn't going to be able to retain Boychuk, who shoots right-handed, plays a physical brand of hockey and has a plus-89 rating in 321 regular-season games.
"Part of my job is projecting the market. And I see where Johnny's market's going, and all the strength to him. He's earned it. Like he's been in battles, he's a good player, he's earned it," Chiarelli said. "So part of it was that. Part of it was doing some housekeeping for our cap issues. And part of it was the strength of the return. That was strong return. You look at those three things, you make a decision to move forward."
The Bruins have several candidates to replace Boychuk, but none who can duplicate his skill set, Chiarelli admitted. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who missed all but 34 games last season with a knee injury, is healthy again and set to anchor the second defense pairing behind the top two of Chara and Hamilton.
Seidenberg, a left-handed shot, can play the left or right side. If the Bruins decide to go for a more defensive partner for Seidenberg, they can turn to veteran Adam McQuaid or second-year player Kevan Miller. McQuaid missed all but 30 games last season because of injuries and had offseason ankle surgery. Miller has never played a top-four role before.
If the Bruins look for an offensive dimension, Krug could play to Seidenberg's left. After a 14-goal, 40-point regular season, Krug played an expanded role in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In addition to having two goals and 10 points in 12 games, Krug played more against tougher competition and killed penalties. However, he's never played a top-four role over the course of an 82-game schedule. Matt Bartkowski would be a left-handed option.
"Trading away a good player like Johnny, who plays No. 3 minutes and plays that second-pair defending shutdown [role] ... we've got players that we feel that can fill, not with Johnny's shot, but with either their skating or their strength," Chiarelli said. "We're getting players back [from injury]. So it's a tough call."